Finding a Great Executive Coach

How do you find a great executive coach – the right coach – for you and your company? 

Over many, many years, I’ve met some of the most interesting styles and flavours of coaches. Through the coaching community and, coupled with my own international experience over 25 years, here’s what I’ve learned. It starts with being clear about your needs, so let’s first talk about the difference between a coach, a consultant and a mentor. Each one has their place but they’re quite different.

  • A consultant is an expert in a specific area who works on a time-based project and will give you data and/or answers and recommendations.
  • A mentor is someone who’s been there, done that and can advise you.
  • A coach uses a framework to ask the right questions – rather than giving you answers – facilitate conversations, and guide people to come to the right solutions for them.

An executive coach is a thought partner you build a relationship with to help you to get clearer and become more effective as a leader.

He or she challenges you and brings you to better insights – and ideally better execution of those insights.

In my world, we coach CEOs or senior executives one-on-one, and facilitate strategic planning sessions for companies.

The journey of leadership isn’t about the money, the corner office or telling everyone what to do. It’s helping all of those around you to reinvent themselves and become better leaders. Even if you’re a manager and not the CEO, you still don’t necessarily want to be told what to do. You want to be helped to make the right decision.

And that’s what a great coach does.

A lot of people in my field don’t keep their clients for a long time because they have too much opinion and answer dispensing. And that’s not what a lot of really successful people are happy to hear. They want perspective.

I’ve had an amazing mentor since my early 20s. Joff Grohne is an awesome guy who built a large design company called Karo Design and, I tell you, that guy would never give me an opinion. He’d always would ask me a question or bring out a framework. He was a mentor, who actually was an outstanding coach.

Are you coachable?

As a leader, are you open to new or different perspectives – to changing how you think and how you operate as a leader?

Are you willing to do learn and to do difficult things?

Sometimes it’s about you and sometimes it’s about the skill of the coach knowing how to get the best out of you – and that’s why coaches need to spend so much time on their own learning and growth. It’s about knowing h26 to get the best out of different people in different circumstances.

When a CEOs calls, I test to see if they are coachable because if they are not, they’re going to waste their money, and neither of us is going to feel good about it.

I once worked with a client who, it turned out, wasn’t coachable enough, and wasn’t willing to deal with some of the nitty gritty of his business. And that’s his prerogative. But nothing was changing, and he wasn’t getting value from me, so we talked about it and agreed someone or something else would be a better fit.

Qualities of a Great Executive Coach

When I’m looking at coaches to bring onto our team or to recommend to others, I look for people with experience and specific, proper coaching training. They must also be committed – obsessed – with really truly helping and having an impact, and be professional students, always studying and improving their skills.

A great coach has understanding and great pattern recognition through many experiences. For example, a client may do a strategic planning session once a quarter but a coach who has done it many, many times with many, many clients brings that experience with them.

Those who are really successful have put in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours – I think I’m closer to 30,000! – know how to ask the right discovery questions to figure out what’s really going on, and to get to the root of the problem or the core of an opportunity. We don’t ask leading questions. Our job is not is not to prove that you’re right, our job is to make you better.

The Right Fit

Like any personal relationship, you want to pick the right partner – a good fit for both the leader and the coach.

As a executive coach considering a client, I ask myself:

  • Do I like this person? Do our values fit?
  • Do I believe in them? Does he/she have the capability and desire to be a Level 5 leader?
  • Can I stand behind and be proud to work with them?
  • Would I be proud to introduce them to my other clients to be part of a community of CEOs?
  • What do they want from their business?
  • Can I become a great investment for them versus just an expense?
  • Will this opportunity challenge and help me learn and grow?

We look for leaders who want to build an enduring business and a great relationship. If their vision is something else, then another coach could be a better fit.

A client should ask:

  • Why are they a coach? What are they passionate about?
  • How much time do they invest in learning and growth? Do they have a coach?
  • Do they have the experience to multiply my capability and effectiveness?
    • Are they a 14X coach that has been there and done that 14 times before? (Chapter 11, Quadruple Your IQ, Your Oxygen Mask First).
    • They don’t have to be an expert in your specific industry, but have worked with lots of people like you, at the stage that you’re at, and have huge pattern recognition.
    • Have they had formal coach training?
  • How many long-term clients do they have?
  • Are they prepared to challenge and risk upsetting me, with my best interests at heart?

Try Before you Buy

Any coach worth their salt will offer a few conversations up front to see how you’ll work together. This is especially important for one-on-one coaching.

We understand that leadership and growth is not an easy journey. It’s tough and painful – and can be much smoother in partnership with the right coach.

The Challenge

  • If you’re not currently working with a coach, mentor or someone who helps you to continue to learn and grow, what would you benefit the most from doing so and how can you find them?
  • If you are, congratulations! Now, what can you do to make your time with that person even more valuable?

Click here to listen more on finding a coach on my recent podcast The Growth Whisperers.